Harris in boycott over `Barber' cuts

Cannes: Screen legend misses opening after his role is cut in `overblown' Russian epic
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The Independent Online
THE MOST expensive and most carefully planned film festival in the world received a kick in the groin yesterday when the star of the opening film denounced it as a travesty and accused the festival organisers of calling him a drunk.

Richard Harris, the Irish actor who won the Best Actor award at Cannes as long ago as 1963 for This Sporting Life, starred opposite Julia Ormond in this year's opening film, The Barber of Siberia.

But while Miss Ormond ascended the red-carpeted stairs on the Croisette to the gala opening on Wednesday night, Mr Harris was nowhere to be seen.

He said yesterday he had deliberately stayed away after discovering that the film, by the Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov, had been cut from six hours to three hours, with the biggest casualty being his performance.

Mr Harris said: "I spent nine months of my life in Siberia and Moscow on this film, the longest I've ever spent making a movie. When I received the script it was the best script I have ever read in my life, and the director was the best I have ever worked with.

"But I asked to see a copy of the picture last Friday and to my horror I saw it had been cut by half. I float in and out of it, inconsequentially.

"I appear every now and then doing nothing. And I was meant to be the star. Well, they can cut me out but they can't kill me," he told The Independent.

"I hear that the producers and festival publicists are saying I didn't come because I was tired and emotional. We know what that means, don't we. How dare they? It's not true. The reason I didn't come to Cannes is that I would have been embarrassed to have my name above this film and hardly appear in it. Why didn't they tell me what they had done? I hear that they do have telephones in Russia.

"And to make matters worse, the producers said to my agent last week, `Couldn't Richard say he took a small part just to work with one of the world's most major directors?' Can you believe that?

"Of course the critics will say now that the film doesn't make sense and that it is too long. It is too long at three hours. But it wouldn't have been too long at six hours. It lacks coherence and cohesion now."

Mr Harris was correct in predicting poor reviews for the film. Yesterday the showbusiness journal Variety, in a review headlined "Barber could use a shave", called the film "overblown, overlong and decidedly underwhelming on every level". It added: "Harris is given almost no opportunities, and in one scene is allowed to sit with his mouth wide open for minutes on end."

But the film did have an unexpected champion from the British Government. The Films minister Janet Anderson, who was at the premiere in Cannes, said yesterday: "I thought it was a wonderful film. It was like one of David Lean's epics. I'm not sure I could have watched six hours of it, but three hours was just wonderful."

The film's publicists, Rogers & Cowan, said they had had no conversations with Mr Harris and did not wish to comment further regarding his views, but were arranging interviews with Miss Ormond.